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Road to becoming Tournament of Roses' president is a long one

The apprenticeship requires years of devotion, hard work and waiting. Gary DiSano had put in his time, but died before he could fulfill his duties as 2010 Rose Parade president.

September 23, 2009|Cara Mia DiMassa

It's been called the longest apprenticeship in America. Longer than the most elite medical residency. Longer than going through law school -- a couple of times.

The lead-up to becoming president of the Tournament of Roses, the person who presides over the nation's most-watched parade and its accompanying bowl game, involves years spent staking out barricades in the middle of the night, supervising the parade's equestrian participants, and organizing a stream of parties -- all with the kind of devotion usually associated with religion. It requires rising through the ranks to guide high-profile committees, like the ones that choose the parade's queen and court, or manage the Rose Bowl game.

And then, for a lucky few among the organization's more than 900 members, it requires eight more years of waiting.

Each year, one person is added to the organization's executive committee and serves eight years before being handed the red jacket that sets the tournament president apart from the white-suited membership. With that, he -- and in 121 years, it has almost always been a he -- gets to put his personal stamp on the celebrated event, choosing the Rose Parade's grand marshal, theme, poster design -- even the lapel pin.

"Everybody tries very hard to make the desires of the president work," said Jim Stivers, who has been involved with the tournament for half a century. "Everyone in the tournament respects that person who has gone through the pledgeship to arrive at that point, and they try to make it work."

Gary DiSano never got the chance to preside over the parade that he had spent nearly eight years preparing himself to lead, or the organization of which he had been a member since 1972. DiSano, the 2010 Rose Parade president, died Sunday after a long illness.

Although DiSano's death was not unexpected, many close to him said that his cancer had been in remission for years, and he had been confident that he would live to ride down Colorado Boulevard.

Still, a remark he made to The Times in 2002 seems prophetic now: "The only thing that ends the apprenticeship is death."

This marks the fourth time in the Tournament of Roses' history that a president has died before the parade. The last, Delmer Beckert, died in 1993, six months before he was to take his red-jacketed ride down Colorado. In that instance, the person who was next in line on the executive committee donned the jacket, and took over the responsibilities of president for a year and a half.

But tournament officials said Tuesday that the organization's bylaws have changed since then, and no longer allow for someone to become president before his or her scheduled time. Under the current succession plan, worked out at an executive committee meeting late Monday, Jeffrey Throop, the group's executive vice president, will assume the office of president but not the actual title or the red jacket. A grand marshal, chosen from a shortlist prepared by DiSano before his death, will be introduced in several weeks. And DiSano's family will ride in the parade, in one of four official tournament cars.

Tim Estes, president of Fiesta Parade Floats and one of the parade's biggest fans, said that DiSano was well-loved by everyone within the tournament community.

"He loved the parade," Estes said.

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cara.dimassa@latimes.com

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